Walter Kozbiel is 23,000 days old. Or in the 3,300th week of his life. Fine: He’s 63. He sells Real Change at the top of the Queen Anne hill, although he’s a bit coy as to how long he’s been at it. We could look it up, but we won’t.
Walter — a tall man with bushy eyebrows and a kind demeanor — pinpointed his approximate age in several units because he loves numbers. In them he sees coincidence, and in coincidence he sees meaning, a connectivity in the world. Mathematicians will agree that numbers describe the world and its processes; nature yielded the Fibonacci sequence, pi, the golden ratio.
Walter looks for coincidence.
Once, a customer gave him bills with three 33s in the serial number. Soon thereafter, Walter stumbled upon a business that had been open for 33 years.
“If I find a back-to-back number, there’s some kind of significance,” he said.
The concept, he explained, is called “synchronicity,” described by Swiss psychologist Carl Jung as a “meaningful coincidence of two or more events where something other than the probability of chance is involved.” Jung used it as an analytical tool in his psychological practice; Walter, too, searches for the meaning behind such “meaningful coincidences” to see a connectivity in the world that transcends rationalism.
Walter sells Real Change in part because he values the connectivity that he finds with his customers and other people who he meets. He writes people individualized poems, sometimes about them, sometimes about something they care about. If he doesn’t know them that well, he asks questions. He remembers reciting one such poem and creating an impromptu poetry session with passersby.
His goal for a poem is to express “what makes them stand out from everyone else, the unique person that they are,” Walter said.
Inspiration can come in fits and starts, he said. He once went more than five years without writing a single poem and then found himself penning two in a day.
Walter’s exploration of reality is in no way divorced from the quotidian details of life. His love for information is a big part of why he sells Real Change. He reads the paper, of course, but he also values the Seattle Times and other sources of news and shares what he learns with those who ask so that they don’t turn to untrustworthy sources like the internet.
Interested in the winning record of the University of Washington’s men’s soccer team? Walter has you covered. Want to know the news of the day? Walter is your modern-day town crier.
He loves news to such an extent that he carries articles with him that he particularly enjoys. Reaching into one of three plastic bags by his side, Walter extracted an article printed in the Seattle Times — neatly folded, without a single unintended crease — about life coaches.
He likes the idea of being a life coach, of helping people reach a deeper sense of self-realization.
Walter is also profoundly spiritual and believes in the existence of something after death. During our conversation, he pulled two small squares of lined paper — folded in half, no crinkles — out of his pocket upon which he’d written titles of books and their authors in small, clear script. They were books on near-death experiences, one by a doctor and another by a woman who found herself healed after a near-death experience of her own.
Healing, Walter said, is not solely the province of modern medicine. He believes that he can heal people of headaches, swelling and other pain. He lifted two large hands, rotating them from side to side to demonstrate their power.
He realizes people can be skeptical of such things, and he values their opinions. He isn’t trying to convince anybody. Walter perceives a lot, and what he knows, he knows.
Read more of the Jan. 12-18, 2022 issue.